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50% turnout? Politics needs more ‘Hell and Maria’ types

May 28th, 2014

POINTLESS is an enjoyable early evening quiz show on BBC One. In it guests aim to decide which answer to a question would have had zero correct answers out there in the real world.

It’s hosted by Alexander Armstrong, with the wonderful, bespectacled Richard Osman as his sidekick. And last week there was a fascinating fact which appealed to me particularly. It was that Calvin Coolidge’s vice president on the 1924 ticket, Charles Dawes, was the same man who wrote the music for the hit song “All in the Game” in the 1950s. (“Many a tear has to fall, But it’s all, In the game…”.)

And to top his achievements, Charlie won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. He was, according to the Nobel website, known as “Hell and Maria” Charlie.

Now there’s a multitasker/polymath par excellence, which leaves one musing via the cliché “They don’t make ‘em like that any more.” At least, not in our dull western democracies, where high office seems reserved for the superhumanly bland, setting aside an Obama or two.

As Pointless aired with this fascinating snippet, the British electorate was going to the polls and the Irish electorate was girding its loins (well, about half of them) to do the same. The independents did well here, as did the mavericks of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and its cheerful leader, Nigel Farage.

Much commentariat hand-wringing in this, and other recent elections, has been over the decline in traditional political parties and their creatures – see this example of the discussion by Stephen Collins in The Irish Times.

The professional politician, epitomised by Enda Kenny or David Cameron, courtly and careful, never saying anything that might frighten the horses, leaves many people faintly bored and others extremely bored. Then there’s the great mass of parliamentarians jockeying for position and listening carefully to the focus groups and the imported gurus from the US or Australia.

What is needed, obviously, for people to engage with democratic politics again, is more Charlie Dawes. More real people, with interests, enthusiasms, quirks are needed to persuade the electorate that they are voting for human beings and not pre-programmed policy robots.

Here in Ireland we have Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who started his public life as a campaigner for the right to smoke marijuana. At the polling station on Saturday night, where he presided over a huge vote sending him to Europe as MEP for Midlands North West, he even wore a hemp suit. Ming has received a lot of respect, and does not perform as a panto figure (which Farage sometimes resembles).

He is real, and we need more real people in politics. Then maybe turnout would rise above the mid-50s (Ireland), the 36% for the European poll in Britain, and the 43% across all countries in the European Parliament voting. This had politician Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium celebrating that for the first time, the percentage voting had gone up, not down as every other time. Up by….0.1% but for the Europollies, that’s better than nowt.






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